Leading supermarkets Coles and Woolworths, could be close to a voluntary code of conduct with suppliers, possibly alleviating political pressure for a deal or avoiding the government stepping in with a mandatory code.
Coles boss Ian McLeod confirmed on Wednesday a voluntary code with suppliers could be four to six weeks away, with nearly 90 per cent of questions between the key players, retailers and grocery suppliers settled.
However, Mr McLeod warned, any voluntary code governing how supermarkets deal with suppliers should not impose extra costs and bureaucracy on the supermarkets and suppliers.
"I think they [suppliers] just want to know where they stand so there is a code of practice we can agree to and principles we can follow to give people security and peace of mind when negotiating with the main retailers."
Talks between suppliers — through the Australian Food and Grocery Council — and supermarkets began last year but no deal has been reached as the parties disagree on fundamental matters.
Recently, the National Farmers' Federation pulled out of the talks. "That dialogue is still continuing and to date those conversations have been very constructive," Mr McLeod said.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has said its recent investigations into alleged improper behaviour by supermarkets in dealing with suppliers would not stop if a voluntary code was agreed.
Coles' director of merchandise, John Durkan, said a final draft of a code of practice could be ready by the end of next month.